Extinction Rebellion: police warn Heathrow protesters of ‘life sentences’

Simon Calder

Scotland Yard has warned Extinction Rebellion protesters planning to shut down Heathrow that they could face life sentences.

The climate-change campaign group called on supporters to shut down operations at Europe’s busiest airport for 11 days this summer – starting next Tuesday, 18 June 2019.

Extinction Rebellion proposed the launch of a swarm of drones during the night, when flights are not usually operating, to prevent the airport opening in the morning.

The group successfully closed down key road junctions in London, as well as Waterloo Bridge, for days on end in April. The Metropolitan Police was criticised for allowing the shutdown to continue for so long.

But the Met, which protects Heathrow, is warning that the proposed drone attack at the airport would not be tolerated.

“Anyone caught illegally using a drone can expect to be dealt with in line with the law,” said deputy assistant commissioner Laurence Taylor.

“If flown into the path of an aircraft, a drone has the potential to cause great harm to those on board. Affecting the safety of aircraft passengers is very different to blocking roads around London, and should this happen, the consequences will reflect the severity of the offence.

“We would urge anybody intending to join this event with a view to committing criminal activity, whether considered peaceful or not, to strongly reconsider.

“Endangering the safety of an aircraft can result in a life sentence."

The officer said that police and equipment will quickly detect and disrupt unauthorised drones.

Extinction Rebellion has told The Independent it will release a statement about the Heathrow protest on Sunday.

The group staged a short protest on the fringes of Heathrow in April, without disrupting flights.

Earlier this week, Gatwick airport’s chief operating officer urged Extinction Rebellion to call off the drone protest at Heathrow.

Chris Woodroofe said that the pressure on air-traffic controllers to divert planes would create risk.

The Met’s statement coincided with an Extinction Rebellion exercise to “swarm” trunk roads in southeast London. It was described as: “The first in a series of disruptive actions by Extinction Rebellion Lewisham.”

Many schools had appealed for the group to call off its plan to cause traffic chaos because of the number of GCSE and A-level exams taking place.